The Scary Downside of Enforced Sequestering known as Psychological Inertia

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

The world has always been surreal to me, and being married to a historian illuminates just how off the walls the human species can be. Thoughts of the Bolsheviks permeate my consciousness as I watch this country unravel and morph into contemporary feudalism. Supposedly it’s catalyzed by a health crisis, but it’s been in the works for a long time now. The system is broken and we all know it. Containment measures foreshadow indentured servitude. Visions of haggling for a loaf of bread on the black market, donning a paisley babushka complete the narrative.

Whatever the eventual outcomes, the current deluge of remote therapy sessions tells me that folks are going inward. As a trauma therapist sessions tend to veer into dark places, albeit there are often moments of levity peppered throughout. It’s a weird transition solely doing therapy online. The human connection, so integral to cultivating trust and encouraging bonding is reduced to pixels.

This sort of engaged disengagement, spread out over days so as to preserve my eyes, ignites the urge to retreat. My emotional reserves are more tenuous, even though I’m doing less than usual. Revisiting six seasons of Grimm, lots of cooking, a bit of writing and snuggling on the couch with my beau pretty much absorbs my day. Occasionally I go out for groceries and a walk. Maybe I’ll do yoga.

Where does work fit into all of this lumping? How did I get to this place where inertia makes everything seem like a monumental chore? The more my life is restricted the more detached and reclusive I feel and the lazier I become. Fantasies about a pristine remote place where I can commune with nature and indulge in simplicity imbue my reveries.

As idyllic as it seems, a habitual state of active inertia establishes a rut primarily because inertia resists change. Psychological inertia, a term coined by engineer and scientist Dr. James Kowalick, describes the mindset of the status quo. When we are programmed to ascribe to a way of thinking and being which requires compliance, we are prone to get stuck there unless a greater force beyond safety and comfort catapults us into a new way of thinking and being.

It is a blessing and a curse that we humans are so highly adaptable. We have an uncanny ability to cope with the most challenging circumstances. Yet it is this same function that can prevent us from making critical life-enhancing choices. For example, we can find ways to adapt to abusive relational dynamics, but it can be those habituated patterns of adaptation that prevent us from leaving abuse.

Likewise, the higher levels of psychical inertia necessary to adapting to prolonged sequestering is maladaptive for returning to a more engaged, demanding level of functioning.

Since according to the laws of thermodynamics, inertia is an energy that cannot be created or destroyed it stands to reason that we will be challenged to transfer or change the energy of inertia in ways that will be beneficial, once containment measures are lifted and a new trajectory unfolds.

As fathers of psychoanalysis Freud and Jung posited, psychical inertia is resistance to internal and external forces igniting change and growth. Whether this health crisis will induce a stultifying inability to access our life force or we will feel galvanized to renew our contact with preexisting ways of life is yet to be seen.

I for one am very curious to see how this all plays out.

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As a survivor (and thriver) of complex trauma and a seasoned therapist specializing in treating complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome and addictions, I am intent on creating content that affords informative insight, hope and healing from psychological disorders. I aim for my creative content to assist readers with tapping into the resiliency of the human condition while recognizing the countless challenges of being human.

New York City, NY

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